“Look, I know it’s not much, but we all can’t have Versailles, right?”
“Right, no, obviously not. But, Wallace, do you feel safe out here?”
“Listen, Ms. Loretta, no one chooses to be homeless; that don’t happen. But sometimes, things choose you, ya know? It sucks, but clearly I’ve got something figured out, otherwise you wouldn’t be interviewing me for your fancy magazine. Turn around, would ya? Put your hand on that brick wall, there.”
“Now, it feels kind of coarse, right? That’s fine. But what does it say to you?”
“What does it say?”
“It’s tellin’ ya, ‘Hey, I’m may not be comfy, but I’m not going anywhere’. See what I’m saying?”
“Even though it’s not comforting, it’s sturdy.”
“You got it. You feel that sun on your face? That’s a warmth you’re not gonna find inside any window in this fine city. I don’t care how fancy a place you got. Close your eyes, put your head back, and tell me you feel unsafe, just sitting here.”
“Well, it is a beautiful day, but—“
“And what more do you need?”
“Maybe a roof, but then again, I might just be really picky. So you told me when we met that you haven’t always been homeless; I’d love to hear about the five years when you were married. Can you tell me a little about that?”
“Oh, Sugar? Of course I can tell you about Sugar. That’s what I called her, anyway. I’m the only one who can call her that, ya know? Look, can you imagine the most faithful, honest, intelligent person there is? That’s Sugar.”
“And you were homeless when you met?”
“Yeah, yeah. True. I was tryin’ something, ya know? I wanted out, and she was going to help me. And she did. She’s incredible.”
“So where did you meet Sugar?”
“Hey! Didn’t I say no one could call her Sugar? Nah, it’s okay. I’m just messin’. But don’t tell her I said it’s okay, ya know? Like I said, I wanted to live a different life. I made the choice, like I said, you can’t always decide your choices, but sometimes you can follow different breezes. I wanted to live better. So, I’d help people with directions – I really know the neighborhood, ya know? Sometimes I’d clean up people’s trash that the kids or animals had gotten into. I was a good neighbor. A neighbor who lived in a box, but a good neighbor still.”
“And you helped her out?”
“I did, yeah.”
“How did you help her? And how did your relationship blossom from there?”
“She’d order stuff, packages and boxes, but the mail guy – oh, don’t get me started on him -- that guy’d just throw the boxes all over the place. And they’d just sit there. They’d be real close to where I’d sleep, ya know? She’d never come and get ‘em. Now I’m not no criminal, so I wasn’t gonna keep ‘em, but I figured out that she was too afraid to come lookin’ for the stuff. And so, I took them to her.”
“How did that go?”
“Oh, it was perfect. She’s a gem. A true gem on the finger of a Rockefeller. You know the smell of lilac? Every day. I don’t care what shape she was in, if she was coming, you’d smell nothing but lilac. We ain’t got nothing like that here, but you kind of get used to this smell of sewer and rainwater.”
“Tell me more about when you met Sugar.”
“Well she thought me saving those packages for her was nice. And she brought me in for a cup of coffee. I haven’t had a cup that good since the Carter administration. And so, I married her.”
“Wait, now hold on. I feel like there’s quite a bit of information you just left out.”
“Yeah, true, but it’s my story (chortles). And I’m no Shakespeare, what can I say? She was nice, and she fixed me up for a bit. I got a good job, and she let me stay in her spare room. She helped me find my way. Look, I imagine it’s pretty hard not fallin’ in love with me (laughs).”
“Well, I’m not one to argue. Did it just not work out? Were you incompatible?”
“No, things were great. Sugar sees the good in everybody, even me. And she brought more good outta me. We were good for one another, I can’t lie to ya. I was truly happy.”
“So what happened Wallace?”
“Remember a bit ago when you asked me if I felt safe? Well, I do. But back then, I didn’t. Being respectable was nice. Having a house was nice. And a wife? Who am I kidding, that was fantastic! But there were nights, when the wind was real rough, ya know, and the house would shake – like when a storm comes. Man puts a lot of work and money and stuff into these big houses, and they still sway in a hurricane. What does that tell you? Because I sure didn’t know. Why would somebody hide in all of that? Who are they tryin’ to fool? I wasn’t foolin’ nobody. Not even me.”
“And that’s when you left? You left your wife to come and live on the street again?”
“No. Like I said. We don’t get to make all our own choices. This is the life for me, out here, with nothing between me and the sky. See, I’m not trying to fool it. I’m right out here in the open. Am I afraid? Hell yes, I’m afraid. But I’m real too, and that’s alright by me.”
“You’re out in the open.”
“Exactly. And anybody who’s livin’ like that ain’t the most important thing, ain’t livin’ at all.”
“Finally, Wallace, what would you want Sugar to know if she reads this?”
“Wow. Well, tell her that I love her. This isn’t her fault, she should know that. But if she doesn’t, I hope she’ll believe me. You know what? Tell her to think of me every time it rains. Tell her that I may be wet, but me and the sky? Tell her we’ve got it figured out, and I’m alright.”
For LJ Idol, Week 17, "Cardboard". Added additional challenge of writing with only dialogue, no exposition or dialogue tags. Con Crit would be excellent!
The phantom wound reopens any time I hear the word, the invisible blade forever pierces.
I suppose any “bundle of sticks” can be a weapon, if armed correctly.
The sulfur in the air was palpable, just after that jagged word fell from my aunt’s lips. One attends family get-togethers every major holiday, just knowing that, even at its best, the festivities will likely require an emotional triage unit. Perhaps that’s why a modest elixir of stiff drinks is often present.
“I mean, he always was kind of a faggot,” my Aunt Leona said.
Such an innocuous a sentence it was, darting out of her cavernous mouth, like a bat chasing glory. There were no gasps, no startled looks to be found. Here was a simple conversation where my family exchanged evidence in a trial of public decency. Each wanted to prove that they always knew that a recently outed friend was gay. In retrospect, such language should be expected when you’re at a party attended by a collection of horrible Facebook statuses wearing their Sunday best.
“I wonder, darling, what these people would think of you if you weren’t related? Hell, I wonder what they think of you behind your back, now,” Bill said.
My fingernails clawed track marks into the rubber tablecloth as the voice inside of my head took a moment to reload. The day that it hit me that he was separate from me, a venomous poison trapped inside of my mind, I decided to name him Bill. I figured a simple name might take the romance out of his villainy.
“Do you think they’d be like the others? Do you think that nasty word would be hurled at you again? Do you think your own family would do that?” he continued.
The trembling was the very first warning sign; soon after, the sweat collecting on the scorched earth of my forehead was the next; panic attacks aren’t known for their subtlety. As my defense system drained, my two barren eyes locked on to my aunt, still regaling her homophobic wisdom. At the very least, I didn’t want to appear as though I was being pillaged by a demon from the inside out.
“It’s not working. They all know that homos panic when they’re cornered.”
The storm took full effect inside of my head, and each drop of rain brought a selected memory to drown the foundations of my strength.
“Remember that time the bully cornered you in the locker room? Or how about when you decided to be in that play? Ooh, or very recently when that orangutan in a flannel shirt mocked you in front of your wife? It’s really a shame you’re not gay, what, with all of the abuse you’ve taken for appearing so.”
The floodwaters began washing away every recognizable pillar of reality within my own thoughts. Houses that contained coping mechanisms were swept away in the onslaught. Traffic lights that kept order through reason, were torn from their bearings and danced downstream. As the waters continued to rise, the distance between the bulbous clouds of anxiety, and the defeating sea of pain drew closer together.
“Perhaps if you were a real man, you could actually provide for your wife. But, if you’re not going to stand up for yourself in front of her, I can’t imagine you’d ever--“
“Well that sounds simple enough, but no.”
You’re not real. You’re just the sum of my fears, and all of doubts, played back like a haunted chorus. And I’ve had enough.
“Ooh, I do have a song for you. Say, what rhymes with ‘ad infinitum’?”
I think I am worthy. I’m mean, I’m a good person, right? But you, you’re nothing. Do you know how many people have evil voices inside their heads?
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing you that you’re not an idiot.”
The ice cubes assaulted the inside of the glass with chilly triumph. The rum and the Coke came together in such harmony, that concoction began to immediately calm my mental oceans.
“And just what do you think you’re doing?”
You’re not the only one with weapons.
As the revelry dragged on, the drinks gave way to a lone voice in my head; a voice with answers far beyond its own understanding.
You’re the one who’s worthless, Bill. You’re just a voice. See? I can shut you up. Words hurt, don’t they? You wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for me. You’re a part of me. Me. A part of…yeah, you’re all quiet now. Don’t act like I’m the monster. I’m not the monster. I’m not. It’s not like the monster is me. No. I’m the monster.
“Look at this lightweight,” my aunt said as I dropped my empty glass to shatter on the floor. “It’s always the quiet ones, am I right?”
I don’t really think that life ought to be fair, really. I just think it should be a little fairer. That’s probably not even a word, but today wasn’t a school day, so I don’t even care.
Well, at least it wasn’t a school day for me.
I didn’t go, and didn’t plan on ever going again, if I’m being honest. I planned on running away and joining real life. I figured I’d just get to it.
“And where might we be heading?” Uncle August said. All of my mother, May’s brothers and sisters were named after calendar months. There were only four siblings in total, which mom says is good before they ended up with a brother, November.
“Off to the real life, Uncle August,” I said with a spit. Time to find me a real job. “Little boy” is just not paying the rent.
Uncle August had pulled up alongside me on the sidewalk in his pick-up. He used to let me drive it when he had to go to town, but I knew I was just sitting on his lap. I know things.
“Oh, phew. Here I thought you might be running away. ‘Bout time you made something of yourself, A-Bomb.”
Mom always told him not to call me that, but he never listened.
“I appreciate your support Uncle, maybe we can go out for steak when I get my first paycheck.”
“Sounds like a plan. Say, why don’t you hop in, and I’ll take you down to fill out your application. You’re going to drum up quite the sweat, carrying that suitcase and all.”
Uncle August always has a way of making sense, so I got in the truck so we could head off on my first adult adventure.
“Hey, remind me, do they often hire 9-year-olds in town?” he asked.
“They’re just going to have to understand,” I said, “I’m through with being a kid.”
“Fair enough. Well, I don’t know if you’re mom would approve of you being in a bar, but I’m running late for work, and I think we have a “barstool shiner” position open. “
I know it sounds glamorous, but bar life can be kind of gritty. Uncle August had me wipe down all the chairs in the place and then fed me Cokes and peanuts until the pizza place opened up.
“I had a pretty rough time in school,” he said as pizza cheese dripped out of his mouth.
“Yeah, it’s not an easy life,” I said. “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But my worst enemy is Bryce Jordan, and he goes to my school. So I guess he’s already living that life. He’s a bag of buttholes.”
“You can say, “assholes” now. You’re an adult.”
“Right. He’s a bag of assbuttholes.”
“There you go.”
“He told me I wasn’t good enough to be in the smart class. Can you believe that? Sure, I didn’t do so well, but I deserve to be there. It’s not fair.
“Well, life’s not always—“
“He doesn’t know what I had to go through this past year. I was a Spice Pirate.”
“Oh…yeah. That’s, um, a detail that’s pretty hard to ignore. Wow. Spice Pirates, huh? Not Space Pirates?”
“No, Spice Pirates. Space Pirates don’t make any sense.”
“But, Spice Pirates?”
“Yeah, like garlic and salt. Have you ever tried mom’s spaghetti without spices? Ick.”
“There was a while there where mom wasn’t using much spice in our dinners. And so I went out and joined the Spice Pirates. They didn’t know I was working undercover, I was really there to steal the booty.”
“A fair plan.”
“I was out on the Spicy Seas for over 8 months, fighting megalodons, and taking paprika out of pelican’s mouths. How was I supposed to be studying for social studies? I was saving our family!”
“Really, it’s not that you’re not good enough, you’re actual a hero in this story.”
“Yes. Bryce Jordan never dropkicked a walrus, but I did.”
Once the pizza was gone, and Uncle August called a cab for the drunk guy at the end of the bar that I wasn’t to go near unless there was an emergency, and he was the only human, no, “the only sentient being left on the planet”, my Uncle told me his story.
“I had a run in with pirates when I was in school too. Mine were Space Pirates—“
“Ugh, that doesn’t make sense.”
“…and we flew around space, fighting crime and saving girls. I had a Bryce Jordan too, but his name was Bill. Cruel little bastard. I wish I could have dropkicked Bill, like you did that walrus, but by that point I figured out that life wasn’t fair. Unfortunately, happiness isn’t guaranteed.”
“But I don’t want guaranteed happiness. I just want a chance at it. Other kids don’t recognize my pirate patches, but I earned them. And mom always tells me to treat them like I want to be treated. Doesn’t work.”
“You can’t change them A-Bomb, believe me, I’ve tried. You can only make yourself a better Spice Pirate. Be the Spice Pirate Captain. They might never come around, but, hey, you’re still collecting all of the spices. And one day, they’re going to want red pepper flakes on their pizza. When that day comes, they’ll either treat you with respect—“
“Or I put the peppers straight up their assbuttholes.”
“Yeah, or that.”
I finished the rest of my shift with Uncle August and then asked him to take me home. School may be the worst, but the cafeteria food is better than peanuts.
“Uncle, I think today’s my last day. It’s a good life that you have here, but I have seas to sail.”
“Yeah, I figured as much. You’re mom’s waiting for you at home. I think she said something about spaghetti for dinner.”
“Oh yeah? Well that’s good, because this pirate is good enough to save our boring dinner.”
“Right on. Just don’t tell your mom that. And don’t call her an, “assbutthole”. Save that one for the bar.”
“You don’t have to worry about me, Uncle August. I may be a pirate, but I’ve got standards.”
Carrie’s high heels slammed into the imitation marble with each step, an unrelenting cycle of gunshots. She took her place at the bar, a semicircle broken up only by empty stools that seemed to whisper regrets.
“I really should have some kind of fancy pick-up line ready for moments like this,” the man said, “but a lady as pretty as you would likely derail even a good man’s plans.”
“Well, I’m grateful that you didn’t plan that clever line. I would hate to have to judge you even more harshly than you’ve already forced me to,” Carrie said.
“Kelly Saint-Marie, lousy flirter, at your service, madam. You’ll have to forgive me. I didn’t come here to do much talking.”
“Mr. Saint-Marie, you are hereby forgiven. I am in fact here to meet someone, and my manners must have been saved up exclusively for him. I apologize if I was harshly received.”
Carrie kicked the adjacent barstool out for him and gestured for him to join her.
“Carrie Stewart, of the Mr. and Mrs. Stewarts, the shouldn’t be in seedy motels Stewarts, and the what in the hell have I gotten myself into—“
“Do you think he knows, your old man?”
“No. And I wish he did. Perhaps then he’d tarnish his perfect reputation and validate my apathy. Then, and only then, might this remorse seem worth it. Do you know the bartender? Do we need to seek his forgiveness to get a drink?”
“Hey, bartender. We got a couple of sad sorts down here at the end. A pair of whiskeys, would ya?”
“And by whiskey, my dashing friend means cognac. Doubles.”
The bartender snarled and produced their drink order, annoyed that his routine was interrupted. Kelly dug into his leather jacket’s pockets to offer the stranger a cigarette, but when he grabbed the knife blade instead, he tore his hand back out like smoke escaping the flame.
“My mother would have told you years ago that I’d end up doing this sort of thing. Isn’t it strange that we chase happiness that can only possibly lead to heartache? It’s like the sad-old-tale of a dog chasing his own tail,” she said.
Kelly slid his glass back toward the bartender for another round.
“Sometimes you get caught up in a circle. A vicious, hateful circle. I never thought I’d—“
“But you did, didn’t you?” Carrie asked. “It just worked out that you had to do whatever it is you had to do, and you did it. I understand that, better than anyone.”
The bartender poured the pair another round and diligently returned to his routine.
“I won’t pretend that the decision wasn’t mine,” Kelly said, “but it still feels like you’ve got no option but to let someone else pull your strings. It’s like a yo-yo. What’s the sense in trying to be a saint when your day-to-day is nothing more than an invisible prison?”
“That’s pretty poetic for the second round at a bar with a crack in its mirrored-ceiling,” Carrie said. “This place is so incredibly dated. You should have seen the bedspread that maintenance was dragging out of here. It’s like this place is the last stop on the way to Hell. I wonder which is worse.”
Kelly pushed his glass toward the edge of the bar again, only this time the liquor hadn’t been pressed to his lips. He turned to face the unending darkness of the lobby, the blood stains on his jeans no longer hidden.
“Oh, I’d be willing to bet on that,” he said.
“That’s all right, at this point I’ve got nothing left to lose, and don’t want to get any closer to the flames than this little dance I’m going around in.”
“You believe in that kind of stuff? Heaven and Hell? What do you make of a sinner’s chances in the end?”
“What, you think it gets worse than this? Look, the options for being an angel are few. I should know; I’ve been pretending to be one for years, it would seem.”
Kelly took his glass again and made circular patterns with the condensation dripping below.
Carrie stopped the motion by putting her hand on his, grasping gently.
“You’ll be alright: you with that perfect killer blond hair and steely eyes. I bet whatever you’re in for, it’ll all workout,” she said.
“I hope you’re right.”
The police moved in without much commotion and took Kelly into custody. Carrie’s bewilderment would not abate any time soon. She finished her drink before moving on to the one he’d left behind. “Sir? I’m going to go ahead and cash us out. I think it’d be best that I head on home.”
“You’re only nine-years-old, you can’t be Pretty Woman, for God’s sake,” Ellen told her daughter.
The lipstick ran from the top of Sarah’s lips and around the side of her nose, and a tear rolled down her cheek to meet it.
“I’m not pretty, mommy?”
Ellen sighed, and wiped the gauze of reality out of the scope of her eyes.
“Of course you’re pretty honey, but you can’t be Pretty Woman from the movie. She, well, she had a job, you know. And you don’t have a job. So yes, you can be pretty, but you can’t be Pretty Woman.”
“But Isaac will be over in an hour, and we’re going on a real date. I want a Pretty Woman date.
“I told you, you’re not old enough to go on any dates, you're certainly not recreating some movie.”
Ellen sat down on the couch and kicked her work shoes off as far as she could. With such little energy, they barely made it beyond the coffee table.
“You don’t want to go on dates, Sarah. Dates mean relationships, relationships need money, money requires jobs, and jobs require shoes. Go look in your closet at all of the shoes you don’t have to wear. You’ll love it.”
Sarah crossed the living room with purpose, making certain that her mother would have to look at her.
“While you’re in there, find something else to wear. That’s your formal dress. You only wear that one to weddings, and Lord knows we’ll probably be dragged to a slew of those in the spring. Wouldn’t want to disappoint any young lovers.”
“But mom,” Sarah kept on, “I want to be like you and daddy. You used to watch that movie all the time.”
Ellen snapped her head to establish a glare, but stopped short of laying into her only child.
“I know honey. Can’t I just have five minutes of peace? Maybe you can go bowling with Isaac this weekend.”
“Pretty Woman didn’t go bowling, and I’m going to be Pretty Woman!”
“Goddammit I told you no, and that’s enough. Go to your room, and I swear to God, if you don’t leave me alone, you won’t be watching Pretty Woman, or anything else, because you’ll be grounded.”
Sarah stormed off to her room with innocent fury. Her mother put her feet up on the coffee table and grabbed the remote to find something worth watching.
“Oh, Love Actually. Another gem. Almost as good as, what’s on Lifetime, yes, of course, Casablanca. At least that one’s realistic. Ends in heartache,” she said into the void that was the empty room. She turned the television off and the remote control found its way through the air, ending up much further than her shoes.
"The only good thing about a movie is that you can turn it off.”
As she rolled her head back, there was a crash, and again, her reprieve was short lived. The remote had crashed into an end table, and something heavy fell to the rug below.
She hated the term, “urn”, but hated, memory box even more. Either way, it was the object that had danced so poorly with gravity in her frustration. Her husband was now the latest victim of her ever-growing stress attack.
“No, no, no. Why can’t I…fuck.”
The urn remained sealed, so a full crisis was not present. Still, Ellen tore deep into her hair with her fingers, and clenched the eyes that couldn’t find a tear shut to the point of pain. Her head fell, only to be caught by the cushion of the couch, as she gripped the urn to her chest.
“You could have stayed, you know. I mean, fuck cancer. Who doesn’t beat cancer? Nobody dies of cancer in the movies!”
She sat up and let the mascara do as it pleased, another failed attempt at normalcy.
“You’d probably tell me that you loved me, but that, ‘You could consider being rational,’ in that sweet, but know-it-all voice of yours. I’d give anything to hear it now. Even though I’d be pissed that you were right. You’re totally right.”
When the tears finally came, they soothed almost as much as they hurt; For a while, Ellen just let them lead the way.
Sarah rolled up the dress that she was forbidden to wear, and threw it into her closet. Then, out of spite, she piled all of her shoes up on top of it. She didn’t want to hear it, but that’s when her mother appeared in the doorway.
“That’s not going to look good, come springtime,” Ellen said with a giggle.
“I don’t care!” Sarah replied.
“I know you’re mad. And I want to apologize. I shouldn’t have laid into you like that.”
“Pretty Woman deserves better.”
Ellen laughed, “Yes, you’re right. She totally does. I’m sorry Pretty Woman.”
“Do you not like movies?”
“Oh, honey. Of course I like movies. I’m just in a bad place. And I shouldn’t take it out on you. Or Pretty Woman.”
“She’s a nice lady.”
“And she’s tough.”
“Like you mama!”
Ellen pulled her daughter in tight, to make up for that fact that she was speechless.
“I love you, baby. And I love Pretty Woman. But life isn’t always like the movies. 'Happily ever after' makes us like them better.”
“It kind of makes up for when life’s stinky, huh?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Well, I like you better than Pretty Woman, or any other movie, anyhow.”
“Because you’re real. And you love me. And even if it hurts, you’re always here for me. And you cut my crusts off, and you come look at me when you think I’m sleeping, but you don’t know that I’m not. And I watch you back.”
The unwritten rule, as it relates to screaming into the void, is that one typically expects nothing in return. That’s why we do it in the first place; We’re screaming into the great unknown because no one is willing to listen to us. Thus, you’ll understand my surprise recently when the void returned an answer.
The drugs aren’t working. Well, perhaps it’d be better to say that the drugs are performing tasks they were not employed to oversee. What is the point, really, of fighting mental illness with pharmaceuticals if they leave you prone on the couch, golden-Cheeto dusted fingers, blacked socked/white socked, swimming in a vat of depression over the fact that your medication is erasing you from the world?
And try as they might, consulting my physician wasn’t much help.
“Well, it’s not going to work for everyone. Maybe we can change up your diet. Have you thought any about meditation?”
That’s how I found myself standing on The Darkest Beach. Pearlescent sand welcomed my two lost feet, its color a stark contrast to the rippling black sea and sky. I took notice of its gentle quality, like tender oil bubbling above and below the horizon line. The ease quietly sailed away though, as confusion and the demand for lost answers rolled in like the darkened tide.
Panic set in, and I found myself racing up the coast. The sand, once a pleasant acceptance, now became a cold reminder of the cost of living without direction. Moist sweat beads arrived and wrapped my face in a fearful-wet mask.
The heading before me appeared identical to the path that came before it, and the fear that I wasn’t actually going anywhere sank in deeper. It was such an odd feeling, all of my body’s machinery in motion, and the sum of all of my desires and needs were mixing in a mental flood.
What if I’m standing still?
Soon, the breath that I had been taking for granted also turned against me. Tiny, ice-encrusted daggers began filling up my chest and my throat. I gagged and fell into the sand below, a destination that felt like a bed of shattered bones. My eyes shot towards the sky for guidance, but there was no moon; there was no sun; there was only a sky full of regretful black.
Then too my eyes were filled with blackness, and my vision faded to a stingy emptiness. I cried out to the nothing, the loneliness, the confusion.
The void answered with the chill of a ringing bell.
What could that be? Who here answers my cry?
My shivering body fought its way off of the sandy shore and stumbled brazenly towards the new sound. There was an odd sensation of terror with every new clang, but my feet only moved forward faster.
Finally I reached the mysterious ringing and fell back to my knees. The blindness only served to remind me that vision or not, there was nothing here that my mind could actually see. All of my questions would go unanswered.
The darkness wrapped itself around me then, the sensation in my body melted away until all that was left was the emptiness that had grown inside of me. And still, I could sense it, the figure standing before me in the dark.
“Who are you?”
It rang the bell once more as if the answers were meant to appear in my mind.
There was nothing, beyond the ringing of that bell.
I sit here now and wonder if it’s all worth it. The game that we play, the one in which we dance around the fire pit of our own conditions, throwing anything we can find in to see if we can stop the blaze. I have to admit I’m a little tired of the flames shooting up overhead. Why are we playing this foolish game? The risk/reward ratio seems heavily tilted against the chance that we’ll ever feel happy or normal. And even as I question it, I’m throwing more medicinal logs into the flames; I prepare for another trip to The Darkest Beach. What are we playing for?
How did you ever find yourself getting pummeled in a wrestling match, put on by some two-bit carny whose only love was a dollar bill? Oh, that’s right; he created you. That’s just something you’ve never let go. And now, there’s a fist, roughly the size of a Cadillac, raining down on you from above. One punch, then two, a parking lot of Cadillacs taking the time to pull up to the left side of your face. And now the right. Park and retreat. Park, then retreat.
It’s all very fitting, of course. Do you remember leaving your father’s beat up old Duster on the side of that road? Of course you do. You were running off to join the circus! You were running off to join his circus. He just can’t escape you. What is it about the men in your family and the penchant for running off and leaving important things behind, like things neglected in the rain?
The beauty of the entire situation is that ridiculous luchador mask you’re concealing your face with. As the car-fists assault your baby face, and the road-wide boots attack your midsection, your father has no idea. What subterfuge! You’re honestly being abused for a man who is sitting in the rear of a bloodthirsty crowd, paying more attention to tonight’s tender than the fool about to die for his dime. And there’s one question speeding through the tunnels of your mind that is impossible to stop:
"Would he even bother to look up from counting his earnings if I wasn’t wearing this mask?"
Your face meets the mat like an ill-conceived demolition derby. What is that taste though? Clearly the mat is made out of burlap’s cheaper understudy. The rest of it, though… ah, yes, your mouth is bathing in a carnival of months of wrestler sweat, mildew, and what can only be described as a pool of your own blood rapidly attempting to escape the wreck that is your body. It’s taking off quicker than your old man! Or you, you poor forgotten kitten.
You hate this crimson, loveless taste. You hate this incessant feeling of being steamrolled. If only you hadn’t been left alone on life’s dock, searching in vain for a boat that would never enter your pathetic, still-water harbor. If only.
It’s time for the big comeback now, ace. Your character is the epic hero, El Chico Maravilla! At least that’s what Father Deception tells the rubes in exchange for their pay. He’s selling lies like diamonds. Now there’s a lesson for you son. Daddy No-Cares didn’t even notice you slipping into the role when Tommy the dope fiend went missing. What an incredible employer and family man!
You fight back now, but your own toy-car fists aren’t fooling anyone. The crowd is actually drowning you in a concert of jeers. It’s like they don’t even appreciate a boy barreling down a dead end road in a reckless pursuit of validation. If you remember your training now, and let’s face it, you’re not with that concussion hanging over your head like a faulty convertible top, you’re supposed to fight off the evil heel and exit the arena triumphant!
But you don’t. You won’t.
The old, snake-coiled ropes don’t hold you up, even for a second, as the darkness welcomes itself in. The tumble from the ring to the cow pasture of a floor isn’t even what kills you. As your breath fades, like a car’s left hand turn signal blinking ominously for a right-hand turn you never should have made, it’s that look that kills you.
The once roaring crowd falls silent as the air in the tent takes the form of a static rain. Your father has moved closer now, the loves of his life cuddling up deep in his scabby palms. Your eyes meet his. He’s kneeling beside you with a hand on your bruised-and-bare back. You can feel the crumpled dollars in his paws as they dance in the sweat beads on your skin.
He looks dead into your eyes, and your final look is into his, and you know what he’s thinking:
"I hope I can get this one past the insurance company."
You’d think they’d have a name for the moment when a good man, after a life of proper deeds, is actually ready to commit murder. For when the unforgettable letting go that sees him envision a throat crumpling in the might of his own hands instantaneously comes to life. I’d call that moment “now”.
From the second balcony in this hockey arena, your precious, shaky cell phone video of Bruce Springsteen performing ‘Rosalita’ is going to look like an underwater aquarium shot filmed in outer space, dude. That blinding little screen is what gets me. It’s like Hell’s beacon crying out for one last soul. And right now I’m plenty open to fulfilling its request.
I won’t* do… (*Auto correct –Click to undo)
I’m not interested in if that makes me sound psychotic, all’s I’m really interested in, is you putting the phone down Mr. Kubrick. No one is going to watch your little film. In fact, I’ll probably delete it to make room for me filming your death, and then burying you and that wretched piece of technology with you. The fools who stream their lives away, I swear…
I won’t do anything stupid
Because they’re everywhere now, right? You can’t go anywhere without the glow of one of those little screens deteriorating your eyes, mind, and in fact, your soul. You’re afraid of being alone, right? The present just drives you batty, what, with all it’s potential and promise. Let’s just stare at Facebook a little bit longer. Maybe then you’ll discover your true purpose.
I won’t do anything stupid tonigght
If you’re not going to do anything with your life, why not let me waste it for you, in my own special way. Do you think your parents will feel guilty? You know, for raising such a bum? What if you were inside of a little box, because they didn’t have the guts to instill better values into you? Hmm? How would you feel then? I hope it makes you feel like the lowliest human that ever sprang from a mother onto this fertile soil to grow absolutely nothing.
I won’t do anything stupid tonight*, (*Auto correct – Click to undo)
But…but I can’t do that. This is fucking stupid. I’m sorry, man. Maybe if you knew loss; maybe then you wouldn’t take this life for granted. Ya know? The only one I ever hurt is myself. It’s why I live with this guilt. If I had just taught her to be more responsible. If I had just said, “honey, be more careful behind the wheel.” Then maybe that text message wouldn’t have ever have been written. And then, maybe, God, I wish it were true, maybe then my daughter wouldn’t be dead.
The pavement called to Billie as she collapsed in a heap, bathed ominously by her blinking hazard lights. The gravel her hands met as she steadied herself punctured and scratched, a painful reminder that the fall is not as dangerous as the inevitable desire to get back up.
The hazard lights blinked, on, then off.
“Why would you be standing in the middle of the road, you dumb bitch?” she screamed at the bloody body; the one lying motionless, roughly thirty paces in front of her.
She looked…she looked just like me. Why? Why was she there? Why is all of this happening to me?
On, then, off.
“Get up! This isn’t funny, dammit!”
The body, however, would never again move of its own accord.
“Is this some sick joke to you? Stand around and let people run you down? What is wrong with you?”
Only the moonlight answered as pale-white reflection danced in pools of the body’s blood.
“Black women don’t belong in the desert. I can tell you that. Can you hear me? I know you can. We ain’t got no use for this cold. You should have ran. Why didn’t you run? You should have run away years ago! What the fuck is wrong with you? Why won’t you just stand…up?”
Billie fell into her hands, that same pavement now as comfortable a bed as she was willing to accept. Defeat, an evil, if not, enticing intoxicant.
On, then off.
“He said he wouldn’t do it again. It’s been years. He doesn’t…he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” she said through a parade of tears. “Right daddy? Just because mama’s gone…you wouldn’t…not to me. No, no daddy, you wouldn’t.”
Billie’s body rose, and her battered hands parted her brown and orange dreadlocks from her vision. Her car bumper steadied her once more, a simple part of a machine that could easily take you through the brightest of dreams, or the deadest of ends.
It wasn’t a dream. The body still taunted her like a jackal, all too sure that the victim wouldn’t retaliate.
“You think this is great, don’t you? You get to die. Just, let it all go. Takes a lot of nerve, I bet. Is that why you just stood there? Easy way out? Yeah. I think so. Do you have any idea what actual sacrifice looks like? The shit you have to carry with you, everywhere? Nope. ‘Cause you just gave up. You’re selfish. I should leave you here.”
On, then off.
Billie rested there, between those haunting lights. The scene before her was hypnotic and grim.
On, then off.
The body, not unlike hers, the blood erasing the center of the road, and the emptiness beyond; it was a scene of nightmares present and past.
On, then off.
“You got somebody for me to call then? Your dad or something?
On, then off.
“I’ve got a father, I guess. I mean, I do. But you wouldn’t want to call him at a time like this. He’s more of a concern than a solution. You got somebody like that too? Probably. Girls don’t wind up in the middle of the road if they have a bunch roses growin’ back home,” she said, her head rolling back star-ward.
“Too many drugs. My mama always told him we deserved better. He only ignored her until he couldn’t, and then he suddenly didn’t have to anymore. What a life. You been there. You know. You should have gotten out of the road while you had the chance, though,” she laughed, as she readjusted her head.
But the body was gone.
So too was the blood, and now the moon’s light meshed only with the harsh pavement of the two-lane road.
“What the fuck?”
She scrambled for the spot in front of her, the spot where moments prior she didn’t dare go towards.
“Where are you? What is this? Is this a ---“
On, then off.
But there was nothing left. Only the emptiness behind her, and the blinking lights of the car that brought her to where she now stood.
And for a moment, the hazard lights hung precariously in the air, a beacon bright enough to shake Billie’s gaze.
“I guess you knew it was time to go.”
If you enjoyed my take on this tale, please consider voting for it here.
Greetings Adventurer! Quite some time has passed since your final expedition, but new information has surfaced that we here at the Adventurers Club feel will leave you on the cusp of return. The wreck of the Julianne Rose has been discovered. And if that is not tantalizing enough news, the Rose Diamond itself is quite possibly among the wreckage. We know you spent your career in search of it, so we thought you might be interested in one, final adventure. It would be good to see you out on the seas once more, old friend.
Regards, J.W. Hemingway
Ray Copeland’s failing grades in English faded from memory when he read the fake adventure letter. He bought into the hope and optimism so much that he almost forgot that he’d written it. Would it revitalize his father? The elder Copeland had always loved old adventure tales, cryptic puzzles, and treasure maps. “Now what in the hell do you think this means?” Bill Copeland asked. “I could build a house out of all the paper these scam artists have sent me trying to get me to buy this or sell that.” “Dad, I don’t think they’re really asking for anything,” Ray said. “Isn’t that someone you know? Sounds like it could be some fun.” It was a story of a wreck in the Baltic Sea on CNN that prompted Ray to surprise his father. The stories of his dad’s adventures with “war buddy,” John Wayne Hemingway, were legendary during Ray’s childhood. The raging intensity from each tale could have melted the paint right off of the family’s living room walls when the Old Man got going. The stories could not have been any more fantastic, and it didn’t even bother little Raymond that he was certain they weren’t true. It meant the world to him that his father would invent something just to entertain him. And now he hoped to return the favor. Based on the opaque veil of skepticism on his father’s face, the scheme wasn’t going well. “You know, Dad, there’s a lot going on, none of it’s easy. Maybe it’s a blessing that you heard from your old pal, Hemingway.” The paper and envelope took flight toward the trashcan as Bill sat down at the counter separating him from his son. “Do you have any idea? Do you know what it’s like to know, to know with great certainty that every thing that you know is about to vanish? Every memory, every lesson…gone. Into the air. All of my dreams, poof! Gone. They don’t keep records of that kind of thing for me to just go and refresh myself with. Do you know that? No. You don’t. And I’m glad you don’t. I wouldn’t wish this upon Hitler himself, may he rot in the flames of seven hells.” “It can’t be easy, Dad. I know that. I can’t pretend to know what you’re going through, but I do know it’s hard. I just thought that maybe a few of your dreams could be revisited in that letter. And I also know, if this moment is all I have with you, then, well, it’s got to be enough. I’ll do whatever I can for that.” Ray’s hands shook now, feeling as if that tension was on its way back. With a firm hand, Bill reached across the cold white counter to rest his son’s hand from shaking. “I know son. That is fantastic. It truly means the world to me.” “I don’t appreciate being scammed though,” Bill said as he walked over to retrieve the letter. He folded the paper back up and returned it to its envelope, slamming it down on the counter that separated them. “Lucky for us this is a verified letter from The Adventurers Club. Well, come on. We’re going to have to crack the code before we ever find the combination to the safe. There’s no sense in them diving down there for that thing without it,” he said.